client meeting

Advisors should approach client meetings as a “collaborative inquiry” and employ more open-ended questions, an expert says.

According to Warren Berger, a journalist and author of multiple books about the art of questioning, these questions include: “What are your goals? What if you tried this? How might we do that?”

“When you’re asking these types of questions, they open up the imagination and the dialogue a little more,” he said Monday at the Investments and Wealth Forum in Toronto.

Berger is a proponent of what he calls “How might we?” questions. “How” is about figuring out solutions. “Might” implies there are possibilities, and “we” denotes working together and collaborating on a solution.

“You’re saying to the client, ‘This is not your problem. I’m not telling you what you should do about your problem. I’m not selling you something or giving you a spiel. This is a challenge we have together. We’re going to work on it,'” he said.

“You’re bringing them into the process. They’re part of answering the question. They feel ownership of the answer that eventually comes out of this.”

Berger noted that companies such as Google use “How might we?” questions to respond to client feedback and spur innovation.

The questions can be used to address multiple issues at once. He provided an example of a client who wants to retire at 50 but is concerned about running out of money or losing their sense of purpose.

Berger posed the following question: “How might we find a way for you to retire at 50, while also making sure you don’t run out of money, and at the same time, look at ways you can maintain a sense of purpose and direction?”

The question could guide your work over a number of meetings.

Some advisors may worry that asking questions undermines their expertise, since they’re used to being the ones with the answers.

“You’re the person who is valued for your knowledge,” Berger said.

However, he pointed to research showing that asking questions demonstrates your interest, which builds trust.

Another effective technique is for the advisor to paraphrase what the client is saying and ask them, “Have I got that right? Am I hearing you correctly?”

“It also shows the client that you’re listening and really paying attention,” Berger said.